Council defers decision on airport taxi fees
In their first general meeting after their summer recess, council unanimously decided to defer an amendment to the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw that would change the fees charged to taxi drivers using the waiting corral at the Fort Mcmurray International Airport.
The motion deferring a decision was brought forward by Councillor Mike Allen, who said he wanted the amendment to return to council in two-months time, allowing for more information to be gathered.
Many councillors voiced their concern with passing the initial amending motion.
“We don’t have TAC commissioner here to begin with, we don’t have the airport here to begin with and they’re probably two of the biggest stakeholders,” said Councillor Keith Mcgrath. “I can’t support the changes simply because I don’t have enough information.”
Currently, taxi drivers in the waiting corral must pay a $3 airport service fee. The fee is used for airport maintenance, including snow removal and heated washroom facilities.
Penny Skinner, manager of Sun Taxi, said while it may not seem like much, the $3 charge is having a significant burden on drivers.
Currently, the group of taxi drivers pay the airport approximately $12,000 to $18,000 a month in fees.
“Drivers are struggling now to make ends meet,” said Skinner, adding that international airports in Calgary and Edmonton have a similar surcharge for passengers.
“We don’t know where to go or what to do anymore.”
In January 2016, Sun Taxi owner Ronald Macneill asked council to consider the $3 charge be given to the person requesting the taxi.
Given the state of the economy at the time, Macneill argued the fee was too costly to the taxi drivers.
In February 2017, the Taxi Advisory Committee voted in favour of supporting the $3 fee paid by a passenger.
They also supported a $5 surcharge if a van is requested in the Urban Service Area and a $10 surcharge if a van is requested for the Rural Service Area.
Another initiative including increasing the surcharge for vehicle clean-up because of the passenger to $200.
Councillor Krista Balsom agreed the vehicle clean-up fee was a good idea, but also raised concerns surrounding the addition of a $3 charge to the consumer.
Councillor Phil Meagher also raised concerns about how this charge would further affect business at the airport.
“This is not going to win over customers. I’m not talking just about taxi services, I’m talking about the airport as well, it doesn’t seem like a very good business plan to me,” he said.
Fort Mcmurray’s airport authority has recently seen some troubles, including declining traffic and passenger use, layoffs and the recent announcement that Westjet would be cancelling direct flights between Fort Mcmurray to Toronto.
After many councillors said they were concerned the airport and Taxi Advisory Committee were not present, council unanimously deferred a decision so that more information from stakeholders, drivers and the public could be considered.
A cab operated by Sun Taxi is parked outside the Jubilee Centre and provincial building in Fort Mcmurray Alta. on Saturday January 30, 2016.